Social Media has turned the marketing world upside down in the past two years as the consumer evolves from “the mass” to the individual. Some companies and brands have successfully navigated the shift while others, entire industries, have fallen behind and in fact seem surprised by the turn of events. Publishing seems to be one of those industries that are just now scratching their heads and asking “What happened?”
Every person with computer access is now a writer and a publisher or has the ability to be so within 10 minutes of hatching the desire. Anyone can log onto the internet, start a free blog, open a Twitter account (where every 140 character thought they have is indexed and searchable by Google.com) and in effect, publish their thoughts. Business slide presentations, nearly virtual business books, can be posted on LinkedIn and everyone with a glimmer of an idea can create an e-book and distribute it by tonight.
The era when gatekeepers carefully chose which ideas would be presented to the consumer has passed. The idea-makers are taking their work directly to the universe. Less driven by the desire for monetary gain than by the need to express themselves and connect to others, these new world order writers are dumping endless content into the cybersphere. Yet without the filter of publishing houses, editors, agents and the like, how does the end user find the work and commune with the writer? Even if the reader finds the work, how can he/she be assured the work is good, interesting, valid.
The aggregator sites are a start but lack the “taste filter” an editor might have provided. Readers must self-select which writers they’ve liked in the past and hope they’ll enjoy future work. Here’s where the community kicks in. People who share a passion for a particular genre, writer or subject matter become the referral mechanism for those who are searching. People are developing trusted communities and sources from whom they’ll accept recommendations much like we once trusted our local independent bookseller. The hunger for information, the lust for a great read hasn’t died. The medium, the delivery system and the discovery process, however, are changing.
So what does this mean for the future of books, fiction and non-fiction? Publishers will continue to act as curators, finding and nurturing talent, but the financial model will have to change. Increasingly the burden of finding an audience for a writer’s work will fall squarely back on the shoulders of the writer. This is not always a good fit in terms of an writer’s skillset.
Mystery writers and women’s fiction/romance writers have an edge in this new world because publishers have always placed the lion’s share of the promotional responsibilities back on those genre authors. They’ve become experts at self-promotion and understand the importance of building a passionate fan base and engaging with those fans. They’re already social media pros. Business writers tend to be good at this as well. But perhaps this appears so because publishers are only buying books from business writers who have already demonstrated their ability to build a database and a following for exactly this purpose. The business model seems to be, “build it and we will publish.”
How, then, will first time novelists and self-help specialists with new ideas fare in the new Social order? How will great work rise above the noise to capture the imaginations and heart of millions rather than just delight hundreds? Will this democratizing of publishing rob us of literary talent who are not also self-marketers or will this process open the door to bright new talent who might never before have been able to squeeze by the gatekeepers? I don’t know the answers and most likely neither do you but I’d love to hear your thoughts. Since we can’t look at things the same old way, we might as well talk boldly about what “new” can really be.